A California court of appeal has essentially held that a property owner cannot rely upon fences used by adjoining property owners for many years to determine property boundaries (see Martin v Van Bergen (2012) 209 CA 4th 84, 146 CR3d 667).
Plaintiffs and defendants owned adjoining parcels of land with a common boundary between them. A fence ran over plaintiffs’ parcel parallel to the boundary. In 2005, three surveys were performed to establish the boundary between the parcels.
Two of the surveys concluded that the defendants’ almond orchard encroached on plaintiffs’ parcel in the area between the boundary and the fence. The third survey placed the boundary in a different location. The fence was not on any of the surveyed boundaries.
In a quiet title action after the boundary dispute, the defendants wanted to rely on the fence as the boundary line. The trial court concluded that defendants did not establish the fence as the boundary under the doctrine of boundary by agreement, that the two agreeing surveys accurately established the true boundary, and that the third survey was in error.
The trial court quieted title in favor of plaintiffs based on the boundary established by the two agreeing surveys.
The court of appeal agreed and said the "doctrine of agreed boundary" should not be applied when there is no evidence that the neighboring owners entered into an agreement to resolve a boundary dispute and when the boundary is ascertainable from a legal description in an existing deed or survey.
So proof of acquiescence in the existence of a fence does not establish an agreed boundary (according to California case law). There must be evidence of a specific agreement to take the fence as a boundary.
Neighboring property owners should not rely upon fencing or "doctrine of agreed boundaries" to determine legal boundaries between two properties.
This is for information only and is not the providing of legal services. If you are a landowner in California and have a question about this case or "doctrine of agreed boundaries", you should consult with an experienced real estate attorney.
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